Whittell making run at state title | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Whittell making run at state title

Steve Yingling

Don Amaral hasn’t felt this good about one of his Whittell High baseball teams since, well, 2001.

Any Warrior fan knows what happened three years ago. Whittell brought home the school’s second state baseball championship and the first title in 22 years.

“I like our chances to get through this,” Amaral said. “We match up really well with Battle Mountain. Our last four teams have made the zone finals and I think we’ll do the same.”

Amaral has become more confident in his team’s play as the season has progressed, precipitating a couple of predictions that he’d rather not see in print.

He sees no reason to put pressure on a club that is playing as well as any in the state.

“This has been a good year for us,” said Amaral, whose club completed the regular season with a 21-12 record. “Our goal was to win 20 and we only lost one game I thought we should have won.”

Whittell must defeat either Hawthorne or Silver Stage on Saturday afternoon to advance to the state tournament for the fourth time in Amaral’s five seasons in Zephyr Cove. Moreover, one more victory will also afford the Warriors an opportunity to avenge their only two Northern 2A defeats to Battle Mountain.

“We play the whole season to get to state,” Amaral said.

Amaral’s late-season confidence stems from his club’s torrid top-to-bottom hitting. None of the starters hit less than .315 in division games, with Marcus Mellberg leading the way at .514.

The continuity of WHS’s hitting is better than Joe Torre is receiving in the Big Apple. After Mellberg, the Whittell hitting machine reveals Chris Pavich at .500, Ryan Gosh at .489, Danny Shapiro at .487, Chris Shapiro at .465, Sho Kashima at .433, Brian Vogt at .415, Tommy Esquivel at .333 and Jerel Dutton at .315.

With his starters carrying a .439 batting average into regionals, opposing pitchers may want to wear a batting helmet on the mound.

“We’re going to put a lot of runs on the board no matter who we play against,” Amaral said. “Nobody has really shut us down except in the Vegas tournament.”

As long as Amaral is coaching the Warriors expect the Las Vegas tournament to be on the schedule.

The importance of participating in the Vegas tournament over Easter break can’t be overemphasized. Although the Warriors lost all four games, the experience of competing with schools 17 times larger boosted their confidence to where they can now be considered legitimate state title contenders.

“The Vegas tournament set up our entire season,” Amaral said. “We have to be hitting over .450 since coming back from Vegas.”

The best indication of how far Whittell has come in the last half of the season came during a one-sided doubleheader sweep of Incline.

“We pounded out 20 hits in a five-inning game and the same two pitchers we had 37 hits off only gave up 18 hits against Battle Mountain,” Amaral said. “But we have to get by Silver Stage (or Hawthorne) game to see what we can do against Battle Mountain.”

Other factors contributing to the Warriors’ late-season run are the stellar pitching of Pavich and Chris Shapiro and the return of freestyle skiers Kashima and Dutton to the lineup. Kashima gives the Warriors an experienced catcher and allows Amaral to use Esquivel at his natural position in the outfield.

Three years without a state championship seems like an eternity for someone with Amaral’s background. The Warriors have only overachieved during Amaral’s watch and the next few weeks give them a golden opportunity to continue that trend.

– Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or syingling@tahoedailytribune.com

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